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Korin had lost track of the time, so he was startled to see how long the shadows had gotten when the knock on his door startled him out of his reverie. He stood up, absently noting his body’s stiffness. He’d been sitting still, in his chair by the window, for a very long time.

He opened his door to reveal Marta standing there, arms crossed, as stern a look on her face as he’d ever seen. “You know what time it is?”

Korin glanced out the window again—he didn’t keep any sort of timepiece in his room. “Almost dinner, I guess?”

Marta rolled her eyes. “Dinner was two hours ago and change.”

“Did I miss…” Korin couldn’t think of an ending to that sentence. It wasn’t like anyone in the house required anything of him for dinner. “Is there something you need?”

Marta came into the room and closed the door behind her. She took the chair by the window—the only chair—and gave Korin a careful look up and down. “You know what day it is?”

Now she’d asked the question, Korin realized he didn’t. Yesterday had been…no, not yesterday. The day before, or maybe the day before that? When had he and Ádan argued? How many days had it been?

“That wizard from the palace—boy with the bat—he came asking about you again. So I thought maybe it was time you and I had a talk.”

Samir, she meant. Which made no sense. Korin had sent the message to Sheluna that she wouldn’t see him for a couple days. No reason for her to send Samir looking for him. Unless… “How long has it been since I went out?”

“Over a week, now.”

“That can’t be right.” It wasn’t possible. Korin would have noticed that much time—that many days spent doing nothing but sitting in his room, staring outside, trying not to think.

He sat down heavily on his bed. Fell back against the wall. A week? “I just needed some time to…” To what?

“This about that noble boy of yours? The pretty one? The girls have noticed he hasn’t been by asking about you.”

The old fear of discovery rose up, but it was a pale and hollow feeling, not strong enough to even stir Korin to move. “Yes,” he answered, rather than argue. Because it was true and not true. This was about Ádan and more than Ádan, but Ádan was the easy part that anyone could understand. “He doesn’t want to see me any more.” That was the first time he’d said the words out loud, and his throat tried to tighten around them, to take them back.

Marta sighed. “Ah, Korin. How old are you?”

“Twenty-two,” he answered automatically.

“You don’t even know how young you still are. Which I know doesn’t help. When I was your age, last thing I ever wanted to hear was that things would look different when I was older. But anyone could see how head-over-heels you were for that boy, and I know how much that can feel like it’s everything.”

That was the trouble, Korin wanted to say. If he’d had the energy, he could have explained that it would have been all right if he and Ádan had been everything. But there was the knife and the war and Sheluna and Loukanos and Derian and Teriad and all the rest of the world that had come between them.

And all that Korin could understand rationally, and he could put the pieces together and understand how they all fit, but deep down inside, at the hollow core of himself, none of those words mattered. “I want him back.”

“Course you do. That’s how it goes.”

“What can I do?” Surely there was a solution to this problem. If only he could get his mind to wake up from this sluggish bog it had been in for—apparently—days on end.

Marta gave him a long, appraising look. “If he walked away, there’s not much can be done about that. His choice and all.”

And that was the answer Korin knew. The answer he’d been trying not to think about.

But Marta’s tone gentled as she continued. “But this is the thing you learn with age and experience. Sometimes, with time and patience, absolutes don’t look so absolute. Sometimes fights happen and we say things, and then we realize later that maybe those things are less important than we thought.”

Except there hadn’t been a fight. That, Korin might have understood. There was just…Ádan walking away.

Marta was still watching Korin intently. “Wish I had something better to tell you. Truth is, sometimes love is enough and sometimes it isn’t. And heartbreak is part of life, but you can’t stop living because of it.”

How many heartbreaks before Korin got to be done? How many people were going to send him away.

“One thing I can tell you true,” Marta went on, “you’re not going to feel any better if you keep just sitting in here and doing nothing. I let that go on long as it needs to, but it’s time you got back to doing things. If you go downstairs, the girls’ll find you some food. But first—and I can’t say this strong enough—it’s time you took a bath and put on something you haven’t been wearing for a week.”

Korin blushed, embarrassed. “I didn’t realize…”

Marta rolled her eyes again. “This is why you need looking after.” She pushed out of the chair. “I’m going back downstairs. I expect to hear a report that people saw you out of this room.”

Korin didn’t know what to say. Other than, “Thank you.”

Marta waved the words away and left.

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